How to Throw an Awesome, Low-Effort Graduation Party
You've stressed enough to get here—keep the celebration fuss-free.
Graduation can be one of the most exciting, fun, and—let’s be real—stressful and even downright scary moments in anyone’s life. And when it comes to throwing an amazing grad party, that excitement and pressure can be amplified even further.
Whether you’re celebrating with an intimate group of family and friends, or throwing an all out post-grad rager, no one deserves to be stressed or overextended on a day they should be basking in their accomplishments and enjoying time with their loved ones. With these simple party solutions, you can have your graduation cap-shaped cake and eat it too, guaranteeing your guests’ hunger will be satiated without adding a ton of unnecessary work to your special day.
The easiest—and most affordable, by far—way to ensure you have a party spread big enough to feed a crowd of any size is to request that each individual guest or family bring a potluck dish for everyone to enjoy. While you can provide the main event, like burgers and hotdogs straight off the grill, your guests can help to contribute sides and sweets as a little graduation gift to you. This method is also useful when you’re not certain about how many guests will be joining you, as you’re guaranteed to have just the right amount of food to feed your guests given that the size of the spread will directly reflect how many people show up.
To make matters easier for your party-goers, and to avoid repeat dishes, try making a Google Doc that is sent out with the invite, where people can note which dish they’re planning on bringing. Or, make a wishlist of dishes you have in mind, along with a simple, easy-to-follow recipe for each—such as Classic Potato Salad, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, or Homestyle Baked Beans—that guests can claim prior to the party.
Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen laboring over a party spread on a day they should be celebrating and relaxing. Instead, create a menu that is essentially entirely make-ahead friendly, with the exception of heating and plating a few things the day of.
Casseroles are a great fit for the make-ahead method, whether you’re throwing a brunch soiree fit for a Sausage and Hashbrown Casserole or Easy French Toast Casserole, or an evening event where you can roll out the Enchilada Casserole or Ground Beef and Pasta Casserole.
Homemade dips are also a great menu item to make the night before and have ready to easily unwrap and serve alongside some chips, crackers, and crudité. Some of our faves are Spinach-Parmesan Dip, 5-Layer Buffalo Chicken Dip, and Miso, Sesame, and Sweet Potato Dip.
WATCH: How to Make 5 Delicious Dips
Meat and Cheese, Please
Prefer to not worry about cooking whatsoever on your big day? That’s where cheese and charcuterie come into play. The good news is that a beautiful meat and cheese spread can be easy to pull off, but still look and taste impressive. Rather than opting for a generic, pre-made deli platter from the grocery store, dedicate an hour earlier in the week to hand-picking a spread of cured meats and cheeses that will blow your guests away. Stores like Trader Joe's and Costco can be extrememly helpful when it comes to finding great deals on components for your spread. Serve with plenty of wine and some good bread from a local bakery, and you’re guaranteed to get compliments about your serious cheese board curation skills. Before you start, check out these Tips for Building a Ballin’ Cheese Board on a Budget.
Another way to get everyone at the party involved is by offering more DIY-style food spreads, whether it’s an impressive taco bar, a build-your-own sub situation, or a nostalgic customizable ice cream sundae spread. Not only is this a fun, hands-on way to get your get your guests interacting with each other and the food, but this method will also seriously simplify your kitchen prep, as the cooking is generally reduced to one aspect of the meal, allowing your guests to do the rest of the work.
A great fit for this method is a fiesta themed party, as many go-to Mexican dishes like tacos, nachos, and burritos are easy to self-assemble and guaranteed to please just about anyone. To get you started, check out this guide for an epic Taco Bar for a Party, or How to Build a Healthier Nacho Bar.
The simplest way to upgrade your party spread is to make some easy and impressive party-sized beverages—both adult- and kid-friendly—that will be a huge step up from just putting out jugs of soda or bottles of juice for guests to sip on.
For all of your designated drivers and under-21 guests, have a refreshing Sparkling Punch or Citrus Tea Punch on hand. And for those ready to get their drank on, a boozy Bloody Mary Punch or Ultimate Rum Punch will definitely get the party started.
For more amazing grad party-friendly recipes that are perfect for serving a crowd, check out this recipe roundup.